Turkey is a country that offers a great variety of cultural and historical sites from different periods, but few are quite as intriguing or bizarre as the massive statues on top of remote and uninviting Mount Nemrut. In the 1st century BC, the king Antiochus I went through a lot of effort to build massive monuments to place himself among the gods. The heads of the statues fell off during earthquakes or due to damage by iconoclasts, but everything has remained remarkably well-preserved. They stand as a memorial that feels like it will be eternal.
Most people visit Nemrut at sunrise, taking buses up most of the way on side or another and then hiking to the top. The hike up in the dark and cold can leave you breathless and coughing, part of a trail of lights snaking uphill. The open area that the path reaches is still dark when you arrive, but you can make out the shapes of the heads as your eyes are adjusted to the dark. As the sun breaks on the east side, the stones warm and the shadows come alive. Details of the heads become clearer—they are gods and kings, mythological lions and eagles, and soldiers that watch over the desolate mountaintop. The very top cone of the mountain is actually artificial. It is a massive pile of stones, which archeologists believe were piled up on top of Antiochus’ tomb. A path leads around this cairn to the west side, where even more faces are visible. They get their own time to shine during Nemrut’s spectacular sunsets, which some particularly dedicated visitors choose to experience on the same day as the sunrise.
While a bit out of the way for an itinerary taking in only western Turkey, Mount Nemrut is a great addition to any travel plan passing through central Anatolia. Plan your route in advance, taking into account that there are roads leading up both sides of the mountain but that they connect via a footpath over the top, not on a drivable surface. Local transport may not run as late into the evening as you need to, as well. My girlfriend and I missed the last bus when we were going there, so we ended up hitch-hiking and meeting some really interesting people. When we came down the opposite side after our sunrise hike, we caught a ride with a tour group. However you do it, you’re sure to have a great time.